It is a rare thing for a conventional army to admit its military mistakes; to acknowledge that its plans, strategies or tactics are – or were – wrong. Whether in public or in private such admissions usually take years to emerge; if they appear at all. The British Army’s gung-ho internal assessment of Operation Banner, its three-decade counter-insurgency campaign in Ireland during the so-called Troubles, has been described by its critics as a masterclass in the art of institutional obfuscation and double-speak (though when the analysis was made public in 2007 even the BBC wasn’t fooled, concluding that the, “Army concedes for first time it did not win the battle against the IRA“). Explaining defeats by blaming others or pretending that undesirable outcomes were the intended ones all along are excuses with a sorry history in military affairs.
So when armies do acknowledge that things are going wrong, in however bureaucratic or circumspect a manner, one should take note. Here are a few salient points from the quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the government agent tasked with analysing a key aspect of America’s broken war in Asia:
SIGAR completed four financial audits of U.S.-funded contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements to rebuild Afghanistan. These financial audits identified more than $27.2 million in questioned costs as a result of internal-control deficiencies and noncompliance issues. To date, SIGAR’s financial audits have identified more than $414.5 million in questioned costs.
During the reporting period, SIGAR investigations resulted in three criminal indictments, one criminal information, three arrests, three convictions, one sentencing, over $200,000 in restitutions, and more than $5.5 million in savings for the U.S. government. One indictment was against the Afghan-American former owner of Equity Capital Mining LLC, a now-defunct marble-mining company in Afghanistan, for defrauding the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a U.S. government agency, and defaulting on a $15.8 million loan. SIGAR initiated 11 new cases and closed eight, bringing the total number of ongoing investigations to 267.
SIGAR’s suspension and debarment program referred 13 individuals and 16 companies for suspension or debarment based on evidence developed as part of SIGAR investigations conducted in Afghanistan and the United States. These referrals bring the total number of individuals and companies referred by SIGAR since 2008 to 866—encompassing 478 individuals and 388 companies.
Some more waste:
The inspection report found:
• State awarded Al-Watan Construction Company (AWCC) a $16.1 million contract to renovate Pol-i-Charkhi prison, Afghanistan’s largest correctional facility, which had suffered 35 years of neglect. This contract was funded by Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Despite the costs inflating to $20.2 million, only about 50% of the renovation work was completed, and the AWCC contract was cancelled in 2010. In 2016, SIGAR found that INL had not completed the renovation work or corrected earlier deficiencies.
The 272 page document goes on to admit that much of Afghanistan has become a no-go zone for the Coalition forces and their domestic allies. Indeed, one is left with the impression of a besieged US colony in Kabul with a few embattled outposts dotted around the countryside, more for form’s sake than for any great strategic purpose. All of which makes the United States’ commitment to a war it can’t win, and isn’t even really trying to win, all the more inexplicable.